Midpines, Red Hills, Pinecrest, Beardsley Lake, and Calaveras Big Trees State Park (5/11-14/2023)

The last part of our trip was up in Pinecrest and Columbia. On our way, we stopped at Midpines and Red Hills. At Pinecrest, we visited Fraser Flat and Beardsley Lake (reservoir) in Stanislaus National Forest and Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

This part of the trip was intended to explore my favorite spots along the Sonora Pass that I learned about from my classes at Baker Station. Plus a couple other intriguingly named trails, like the Trail of the Gargoyles and the Trail of the Ancient Dwarves. With a strong focus on MOREL HUNTING now that I know WHERE THEY ARE.

But the extended Winter changed all that. So we opted for things we were able to get to! And now I have to see about planning to do my plan next year… Third time’s a charm?

We stopped in Midpines and found a nice spot along the Merced River for Naturing! Spotted newtome Two-tailed Swallowtail butterfly, lots of other butterflies, oodles of wildflowers (including White Globe Lilies!), and some birds (House Wren and American Goldfinch).

Also stopped at Red Hills, which we only got a small glimpse into. But, WHAT A GLIMPSE! Some newtome flora, TONS AND TONS of Seep Monkeyflower along every dry and running creek, and I even had a Snow White moment. While admiring all the Seep Monkeyflower, an Acmon Blue butterfly fluttered into my view and landed RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Ok, so this NEVER HAPPENS. Typically, I wait SO LONG for it to just land and be still. But this one came right in front of me and onto a Clover to pose for me. I only had my phone camera, so the photos aren’t great. But I definitely want to remember that.

And that on this entire trip I spotted and documented a total of THREE blue fairy butterflies!

On the way out, I stopped to investigate what looked like Mariposa Lilies on the way in as we drove past. AND THEY WERE! Yellow Mariposa Lilies!! SO MANY scattered in the meadows between Chinese Camp and Red Hills. Along with Larkspur and Clarkia. I hadn’t added it to my Wildflower List for this Spring because I just couldn’t get to it in the Bay Area. But here it was in all its Mariposa Glory! Highlight, FOR SURE.

We drove as far East as we could on the Sonora Pass, just to see where it was closed and how much snow was there. And a COYOTE crossed the road in front of us!

Beardsley Lake was scenic and had TONS of Manzanitas, but the highlight there was easily that Brian and Carol saw a BLACK BEAR on the way in!

Pinecrest had an explosion of fungi (newtome Pinewood Gingertail!), but not much else except for a White-headed Woodpecker that others saw. Wasn’t expecting much there, though.

Calaveras Big Trees had BIG TREES. It was perhaps not as impressive, given we’d very recently seen BIG TREES over at Mariposa Grove. But, the North Grove Loop Trail just happened to have a volunteer docent walking with us for a lot of it. And it was great to have him answer ALL THE QUESTIONS. Saw a Comma butterfly eversobriefly, got a decent photo of a White-headed Woodpecker (FINALLY!), spotted some Wolf’s Milk fungi (!), some newtome flora (Narrowpetal Wakerobin? And Stream Violet), and heard loud Frogs at the Meadow. On our way back, stopped to investigate the pale purple flowering bushes we’d also seen on the way to Red Hills, which turned out to be California Yerba Santa. And enjoyed the cheer of all the Orange Bush Monkeyflower while there, too.

Definitely need to try ONE MORE TIME to revisit all my favorite spots along the Sonora Pass. My memories of them are still so vivid. But it was a nice surprise to find some newtome gems in the area.

All in all, a satisfying trip away in the Sierras filled with wildflowers and butterflies and huge trees and waterfalls and friends. Highly recommended.

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